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Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival over two days with Disney's The Lion King and puppetry for all the family

By Angela Cole

A festival bringing world class puppetry and theatre to Kent is returning for an encore – and will be even bigger this year.

The Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival was first staged in the town in 2015, with the star of the show, Joey the War Horse puppet, meeting visitors.

Its second offering will turn the town into a colourful showground with a bigger, more varied and colourful line-up of puppetry fun and entertainment for all ages over two days, on Friday, October 13 and Saturday, October 14.

This year's Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival has teamed up with The Lion King
This year's Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival has teamed up with The Lion King

Organisers have a partnership with Disney’s The Lion King and members of the cast and production team of the landmark musical will host a series of events offering a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of the acclaimed stage musical which features more than 232 puppets.

It is funded by Arts Council England, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Kent County Council, with local businesses.

This week organisers have run school workshops and an exhibition, From Inspiration to Realisation, featuring costumes, full-scale puppets, masks and photographs, at the Trinity Theatre.

On Friday, October 13, the theatre will stage an interactive presentation with The Lion King team to show how puppetry from around the world is used to bring the Serengeti to life on stage.

On the Friday and Saturday there will be children’s shows at the Assembly Hall Theatre, Trinity Theatre and the Forum, although some have already sold out.

On the Saturday, shows at the Trinity Theatre include Finger and Thumb Theatre: The Carnival of the Animals, finger puppetry using shadows, from 10am.

In the evening there will be In Our Hands and Clementine’s Fabulous Road Show by Mark Mander at the Trinity Theatre, and saucy Puppet Cabaret at the Forum.

Clementine will be one of the puppets at Tunbridge Wells this weekend
Clementine will be one of the puppets at Tunbridge Wells this weekend

The Saturday will feature a free programme on The Pantiles from 10am to 5pm.

There will be Punch & Judy at the bandstand, Squashbox Theatre’s The Sea Show and The Fetch’s Clapper Box interactive puppet booth, mask theatre walkabout by Midwives on Call and Circle of Two’s Bambolina and Dodo at 11.45am and 4pm.

The festival is a result of the vision of Tunbridge Wells-based theatre producer, Linda Lewis. She said: “Our aim is to bring contemporary puppetry into the mainstream and give local people an opportunity to experience something different. Our first festival surpassed all expectations and with an even bigger line-up of performers this year we hope we might encourage those who haven’t previously considered a puppetry show to come along, take a chance and give it a go.“


The Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival will be held on Friday, October 13 and Saturday, October 14. Tickets cost from £5. Events on The Pantiles on Saturday, October 14 are free. For more details go to twpuppetryfestival.org.


For curator and theatre producer Linda Lewis, the festival has been a labour of love that has taken her around the country and beyond looking for the best shows to bring to Tunbridge Wells.

Craig and Squashbox coming to Tunbridge Wells
Craig and Squashbox coming to Tunbridge Wells

She has seen shows from Edinburgh to Brighton, and watched small-scale productions and big ones.

After the appearance of Joey the War Horse at the inaugural festival, she is particularly pleased to have secured the team behind Disney favourite The Lion King to be its show stopper this year.

She said: “The festival is carefully curated. The quality of all the shows is excellent. I have had many years of experience of doing this and over the years I have got a body of work I have seen but also I try and see new work. I go around the country, mainly in the UK, to see acts and visit festivals to see if any of the acts would be suitable for Tunbridge Wells.”

The shows she has gathered together are suitable for a range of ages, from babies and young children right up to the risque.

Circle of Two will be at the Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival
Circle of Two will be at the Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival

She said: “There is booth work, shadow work and humanoid puppetry – something for everyone. After watching the shadow work you see little ones trying to make shapes with their hands too. It is a very accessible artform because the whole family can go – and people can have a go too. You find there is not a lot of dialogue in the shows, so it can even work in different languages.

“This is what we have tried to create – a really exciting family festival, with fantastic work.”

The variety of shows is something she is excited about. Circle of Two features trapeze and aerial work and the performers also include their young son. Clementine is a diva that’s just 15 inches tall. Vamos: Midwives on Call, features three midwives with aprons starched and sensible shoes polished, and will be among the free shows being staged in the Pantiles on Saturday, October 14.

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